Apple patent could mean (awesome) new ways of sharing files between devices

Jul 11, 2011
Tech

It’s kind of creepy when iOS devices know things about their state in the world. Like whether they’re upside-down, or whether they’re oriented with magnetic north, or whether you have them pressed against your ear or pulled down to see the screen. Now, Apple wants to give them even more creepy self-awareness, by allowing you […]

It’s kind of creepy when iOS devices know things about their state in the world. Like whether they’re upside-down, or whether they’re oriented with magnetic north, or whether you have them pressed against your ear or pulled down to see the screen. Now, Apple wants to give them even more creepy self-awareness, by allowing you to use motion and proximity to share files between devices.

A patent discovered by Patently Apple shows off a new technology Apple could be implementing in the future that uses “physics metaphors” to allow users to transfer files. There are a lot of images from the patent to go with the story, but allow me to try to explain it in text: Imagine you place an iPad or an iPhone on a table, and hold another iPhone on top of it. If the second iPhone has files on it that you want on the iPad, this newly patented tech would have you do something such as tilt the iPhone over and “pour” the files onto the iPad. And there it is: spooky awesome future technology.

The idea is probably to counter a similarly cool technology HP rolled out with its webOS operating system. That system, which appears on HP tablets and smartphones, allows users to just touch two devices together to instantly share information between them. It’s called Touch to Share, and it has been widely regarded as a great and clever innovation with HP’s operating system.

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It appears Apple wants to go the same road, but with slightly more flare. The “physics metaphor” system is basically just an RFID or a Bluetooth connection between the devices. This is pretty standard, but with the additional use of things like an iOS device’s accelerometer or gyroscope thrown in. The result will be the appearance of the two devices acting as one, and, of course, the quick and easy transfer of files and information between them. Regardless of how cool it looks, having the ability to toss music, movies and images, among other things, between iOS devices that quickly will be really useful.

But wait… there’s more!

There’s more to the patent, though. In addition to just saving files, Apple has also included the ability to create “graphical objects” and send them between devices. Patently Apple describes that in order to make file transferring a little more deliberate, Apple has included the idea of resistance fields – for example, using a flick motion to send a file by giving it speed. Combine that with the graphical objects and you basically have the ability to write something on the screen of your iPhone with your finger and flick it to another device somewhere nearby. In the patent, an image shows the example of someone having scrawled “5 p.m.” on one device and then flicked it to another to share the note silently.

The physics metaphor patent could let you pass information and files to multiple devices as well, responding to a specific gesture. In the images for this patent, Apple describes using a “rotating and sweeping gesture” that would be kind of like throwing a Frisbee to transfer the file to all the devices in proximity. And that could include a computer monitor, maybe even a PC monitor.

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While all these new ideas seem very interesting and could fundamentally change the way iOS devices interact with each other and other technologies, keep in mind that this is just a patent and nothing more. Apple routinely patents all kinds of stuff that never actually gets used, so while these physics metaphor improvements sound really useful, that doesn’t mean we’ll ever see them in action. It’s also doubtful they’d show up with iOS 5 this fall if Apple does develop them, given how much of the operating system we’ve already seen.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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